Herbert Lumsden

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Herbert Lumsden
Gen H Lumsden circa 1943 IWM.jpg
Lumsden as GOC 1st Armoured Division. The photo was taken on 6 Sept 1942 after his promotion to Lieut-General. (Imperial War Museum)
Born 8 April 1897
Died 6 January 1945
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1916–1945
Rank Lieutenant-General
Commands held 12th Royal Lancers
1st Armoured Division
X Corps
VIII Corps
II Corps
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross

Lieutenant-General Herbert Lumsden, CB, DSO*, MC (8 April 1897 – 6 January 1945) was a British Army general during World War II, most remembered for his sharp disagreement with General Bernard Montgomery about the use of tanks at El Alamein.

Early career[edit]

Herbert Lumsden was born in 1897, the son of John Lumsden. Educated at The Leys School, at the outbreak of World War I he was only 17 years old. He served in the ranks with the Territorial Force for ten months before passing into the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was commissioned into the Royal Horse Artillery on 13 August 1916.[1] On 26 July 1918 Lumsden was awarded the Military Cross. The citation read;

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during 13 days of continuous fighting in charge of a forward section. He invariably showed the greatest coolness and courage in the face of danger, keeping his section in action, and always volunteering for any officer's patrol work. As FOO he was consistently shelled whenever he moved his OP, and, although finally wounded, he continued to work and observe for his battery.

Interbellum period[edit]

On 19 April 1923 Lumsden married Alice Mary Roddick in Northaw. They would have two sons together. Lumsden continued to serve in the Royal Artillery until 24 June 1925 when he transferred to the 12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales), a cavalry regiment.[1] In August he was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain after eight years in the former rank. He was an ardent horseman, despite his 6 ft height, and participated in a number of Grand Nationals. In 1926 he won the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown riding Foxtrot.

In 1929 Lumsden attended and passed the Staff College, Camberley course. Promoted to Major in 1931, he held staff appointments in the cavalry for the next four years, being GSO3 of Aldershot Command and then Brigade Major of the 1st Cavalry Brigade. After a period of not being employed he became GSO2 at the Staff College before being given command, in 1938, of his old regiment, the 12th Royal Lancers in succession to Colonel Richard McCreery.[1] He was still in command of the regiment, now converted to armoured cars, at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Second World War[edit]

Lumsden was widely praised for his command of his regiment during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was promoted and commanded a tank brigade before being appointed GOC of 6th Armoured Division in the Home Command in October 1941.

On 5 November 1941 he was given command of the 1st Armoured Division. It was in this role that he first saw service in North Africa. A forceful personality, he was wounded twice in 1942 (having to hand over his command from January to March), received a bar to his DSO and on his return to service, survived Montgomery's cull of Eighth Army commanders.

Lumsden was appointed commander of X Corps[1] for the Second Battle of El Alamein upon recommendation of Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, who turned the command down in his favour.

The Miteiriya Ridge Controversy[edit]

During the night of 24 October 1942, the planned British assault of infantry and engineers over the Miteiriya Ridge during the Second Battle of El Alamein failed. Despite agreeing to Mongomery's battle plan, Lumsden believed it was impossible for his 10th Corps armour to fight its way into the open in accordance with the orders he had received. For him it was the wrong use of tanks and would result in a massacre. He wanted to pull his tanks back and send them into battle once the assault of infantry and engineers had been successful.

In the early hours of the 25 October, Lumsden argued fiercely with Montgomery that his armour should be pulled back, because of the potential appalling casualties from the uncleared minefield and anti-tank fire. When Montgomery insisted the attack continue, Lumsden contacted General Alexander Gatehouse of 10th Armoured Division, the most experienced tank commander in the British service, with four decorations for personal bravery. In a heated telephone conversation Gatehouse told his superior Montgomery that he concurred with Lumsden and that to advance through uncharted and uncleared minefields, covered by strong batteries of anti-tank guns, with the noise of tank tracks making surprise impossible, would be disastrous. Montgomery modified the scope of the attack from six armoured regiments to one: the Staffordshire Yeomanry. It lost all but fifteen of its tanks and the operation ended where it had begun, on the wrong side of the Miteiriya Ridge having failed to break through with the armour.[2]

Ultimately the Allies were victorious at El Alamein, but for Lumsden, his confrontation with Montgomery in the heat of battle proved ruinous. He and General Gatehouse were removed from command and replaced by Lieutenant-General Horrocks, who had previously recommended Lumsden to Montgomery.[3] On his return to London, Lumsden was heard to comment, "I've just been sacked because there isn't room in the desert for two cads like Monty and me".[4] After Lumsden's death in 1945 Montgomery, sensitive to criticism of his generalship, unjustly blamed the near failure of his offensive on the 24–25 October 1942 on alleged cowardice and want of spirit by Lumsden.[5]

Lumsden was liked and respected by Winston Churchill. He was given command of VIII Corps in Britain in January 1943 and command of II Corps also in Britain in July 1943, before being sent to the Pacific as Winston Churchill's special military representative to MacArthur.[1][6][7] Lumsden was killed by a kamikaze plane whilst on the bridge of USS New Mexico observing the bombardment of Lingayen Gulf on 6 January 1945, becoming the most senior British army combat casualty of the Second World War.

Time Magazine Obituary[edit]

A General Dies at Sea, Monday, Jan. 22, 1945[8]

"Leading the armored pack when Montgomery chased Rommel, the Desert Fox, out of Africa was hard-riding Herbert Lumsden, commander of the X Corps. A Lieutenant-General at the age of 45, he was accounted one of Britain's most brilliant young commanders.

But lean, gimlet-eyed Lumsden, who had risen from the ranks, became involved in a ruinous personal disagreement with his superior officers. Winston Churchill assigned Lumsden as his liaison officer with General MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific. There Lumsden faithfully did his routine duty with a heavy heart and longed for another combat command.

On the first day of the Luzon bombardment General Lumsden was killed on the bridge of a U.S. warship in Lingayen Gulf. In London, the War Office announced his death "with deep regret." MacArthur did better by him: "It is superfluous for me to speak of the complete courage which this officer so frequently displayed.... His general service and usefulness to the Allied cause was beyond praise."

Standing only the width of the ship's bridge away from Lumsden, with whom he had been discussing the action, was Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, commander in chief of the British Pacific Fleet. He got nothing worse than "a bit of a bang in the ears." Sir Bruce will soon lead his own powerful fleet into battle under U.S. overall command."

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  2. ^ Barnett, Correlli. "The Desert Generals". Hachette UK, 2011.
  3. ^ Bungay, Stephen. Alamein. Aurum Press Ltd, 2002, p. 265.
  4. ^ Bingham, Colin. "Wit and Wisdom: A Public Affairs Miscellany" Melbourne University Press, 1982, p. 197.
  5. ^ Did Monty's strategic flair win El Alamein or was it a sick Rommel and five times more tanks? Times Higher Education, Oct 2002
  6. ^ Jackson, p. 3
  7. ^ Army Commands
  8. ^ Time Magazine, January 22, 1945 | Vol. XLV No. 4

References[edit]

  • Lt-Col Jackson, G.S.; Staff, 8 Corps (2006) [1945]. 8 Corps: Normandy to the Baltic. MLRS Books. ISBN 978-1-905696-25-3. 
  • Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War, Nick Smart. ISBN 1-84415-049-6

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
John Crocker
GOC 6th Armoured Division
15 October 1940–29 October 1941
Succeeded by
Charles Gairdner
Preceded by
Willoughby Norrie
GOC 1st Armoured Division
November 1941–January 1942
Succeeded by
Frank Messervy
Preceded by
Frank Messervy
GOC 1st Armoured Division
March 1942–August 1942
Succeeded by
Raymond Briggs
Preceded by
William Holmes
GOC, X Corps
August 1942–December 1942
Succeeded by
Brian Horrocks
Preceded by
Arthur Grassett
GOC, VIII Corps
January 1943–July 1943
Succeeded by
Richard McCreery
Preceded by
Gerald Templer
GOC, II Corps
July 1943–October 1943
Succeeded by
Sir Desmond Anderson